The electricity grid seems like an infallible force, and it’s really wonderfully reliable -- until for whatever reason it lets you down. When the lights go out for more than 24 hours, a healthy charge might be your only way to contact the world outside the darkness.
A blackout doesn’t mean there is no energy left out in the world. You just need to know where to look -- and you need to have the right tools to extract it.
Your battery-powered electronics come in two varieties: smartphones, tablets and MiFi, which will charge via USB bus. Your laptop, on the other hand, requires a the equivalent of a 240V wall socket to charge. We’re worried about the former more than the latter.
Energy You Planned For in Advance
You’re a genius! You know that the energy pouring out of sockets won’t always be there.
If you’ve got a generator, you don’t really have a blackout. If you took this step, you don’t need to read any further. Just make sure you don’t zap yourself with the damn thing.
Portable USB battery pack
A much more practical and affordable option is a rechargeable USB battery pack. The $US100 Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo’s 6000mAh battery will fully charge a dead iPhone 5 four times.
Energy Stored in Other Places
There’s battery power in the world -- go get it.
Use your car
Assuming you have keys to a car with fuel in it, you can charge your phone endlessly using a regular old car charger that plugs into the 12V cigarette lighter slot. For $US20, you can can turn that plug into a dual USB port.
Plug directly into a car battery under the bonnet If you don’t have keys (or gas), but you’re crafty enough to get under the bonnet of a car, you can gank energy directly from the terminals on a car’s battery. For $US5, this jumper cable-like tool gives you a 12V battery adaptor like the one inside your car. For $US37 this all-in-one battery inverter will convert the 12V battery into a 120V AC socket. Just be warned, when your car’s not running, the alternator isn’t charging the battery, so this is a temporary solution.
Steal power from emergency lighting
This two-outlet lamp socket is genius. No matter how intense the blackout, somewhere out in the world, there will be battery-powered emergency lights running. Find a running light, and you’ve got an outlet. For $US8, it’s not a bad emergency last resort to have in your back pocket.
There’s no magic to this at all. It’s simple thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created from nothing. The trick is converting all the untapped energy into a world into a charge for your phone.
Hand-crank chargers turn your mechanical energy into power. The super-slim Pocket Socket weighs just 397g for one minute of cranking, you get roughly one minute of talk time. At $US60 it’s not your cheapest option, but it’s the only one guaranteed to work, rain or shine.
If the weather is not too crappy outside to ride a bike, the $US80 SpinPower S1 kit will charge your phone without wearing you out so much.
Small solar battery After the storm, when the sun comes out, a small solar mobile battery pack will brighten up your USB gadgets for $US50.
Burn wood for energy
Designed for fancy campers who can’t live without a USB charge in nature, the $US130 BioLite CampStove could be your lifeline in a blackout. In addition to providing an efficient cooking surface, the wood-burning stove converts heat to electricity, which feeds out to a USB port. As long as you’ve got wood, you’ve got a charge.